It’s been quite some time now since we last posted in our “Meet the Gymnast” series; in fact the last “Meet the Team” post was just before the Mens European’s in Montpellier when we traveled with the Irish delegation to report for Gymnastics Ireland.
In this post we had a brief introduction to long standing Irish National Squad member 22 year old Luke Carson who has a wealth of competition experience having competed at Northern Europeans, Commonwealth Games, World Cups, British, Scottish, World and European Championships.
Like most elite gymnasts, Lisburn – born Luke was brought to his local gymnastics club at a young age by his mother to burn off some energy. For eleven years, Salto Gymnastics Centre helped Luke climb up through the ranks in gymnastics in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Throughout the years he earned many Irish and Northern Irish titles and earned his place on the Irish National Squad in 2000. At 16 years old he competed in his first World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark in 2006, placing 160th out of nearly 300 gymnasts and finishing ahead of big names such as Marian Dragulescu, Kyle Shewfelt, Thomas Bouhail and Marcel Nguyen. Luke represented Northern Ireland at the 2007 , 2008 and 2009 Northern Europeans, ranking high in all years, 2009 being the most successful where he won three medals – bronze in the All Around and silver on both Pommel Horse and Parallel Bars. Throughout the next couple of years he competed in Worlds in Stuttgart, London, Rotterdam and Tokyo as well as Europeans in Lausanne and Milan. At the London Worlds in 2009, he finished 49th in the All Around competition out of over 240 competitors.
2010 was a big year for Carson, Huntingdon Gymnastics Club Coach Paul Hall extended an invitation to him to move from Northern Ireland to train in Huntingdon with now 3 time Olympic medallist Louis Smith and 2009 All Around silver World Champion Daniel Keatings. Since moving to Huntingdon in January 2010, his gymnastics really took off. He represented Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games in Dehli where he placed 15th in the All Around. Following this he joined his Irish team mates at the World Championships in Rotterdam. In this small amount of time Luke’s gymnastics had progressed so much and 2011 was looking like a big year for him.
Two questions that are always asked when discussing Luke are:
1) Why does he compete for both Northern Ireland and Ireland?
2) Why does he train in the UK?
1) In World and European Championships Luke competes for Ireland. In Commonwealth Games and Northern Europeans he has competed for Northern Ireland. Luke can compete for both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This is under the terms of The Good Friday Agreement which states that people living in Northern Ireland are said to be both British and Irish meaning that Luke has the option to choose whether to represent Ireland or Great Britain. This is not applicable at Senior Level, where you must chose one or the other. Many gymnasts would choose to represent Ireland as opposed Great Britain as they might be more likely to gain a place on the Irish Team.
It’s quite a unique situation to be in, as far as I know, no other country has this option. The Commonwealth Games are a bit different because there is no Team GB as the countries are split out into Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland etc. As Ireland is not part of the Commonwealth, athletes do not have to choose.
2) Its simple really, in terms of gymnastics in Ireland, despite having our first gymnast qualify for the Olympic Games earlier this year, there is still a long way to go. Funding for the elites for the remainder of the year has been cut, and gymnasts are likely to have to continue paying their own way towards travel and costs for competitions. Ireland still does not have a National Training Centre; Salto is currently the only facility on the island that would be considered as a modern training centre by International Standards. Luke was lucky enough to be invited to train in the UK under a high profile coach, so took the opportunity.
Between the end of 2011 and first half of 2012 Luke competed in 6 International competitions. In the weeks running up to the Tokyo World Championships, he developed a Distal Anterior Tibial Stress fracture in his left lower leg. As a result of having trained so hard towards a successful World Championships, he decided to work with the pain and discomfort and compete. Having achieved personal bests at his previous two competitions in the All Around 83.5 and 82.9 (with one fall), Luke had been very much looking forward to Tokyo and was gearing towards his best competition yet, unfortunately the injury became too much and he was forced to lower his difficulty level, especially on floor and vault.
After Tokyo came a rest period for a couple of weeks to give the fracture time to heal. It was then time to start preparing for the Ostrava World Cup in Slovakia, without performing on both Floor and Vault. This was a similar case when competing at the Scottish Championships and Cottbus, Doha and Croatia World Cups, despite not being in peak condition Luke still competed. He was then selected to compete as part of the Irish Team at MAG Europeans in Montpellier and the pre-Europeans training camp. Here he competed on all events, leaving out floor and vault to avoid as much impact on the leg as possible. Unfortunately he once again was forced to lower start values and difficulty in dismounts due to the existing injury. His performances helped the Irish MAG Team climb to their highest ever place in a major international competition, 12th.
Following the Ghent World Cup in June, it was time for some rest to re-cooperate following a lengthy period competing and training abroad. Rest however did not heal the injury, Luke told Full Twist:
“It had come to the point where simple tasks like walking, sleeping and driving all hurt. I knew something was really wrong with my leg so I had it checked out again. I had a final CT scan and waited for the results. I was in the middle of training the next day when I had a phone call from my doctor, saying “I think you should stop training right now, as you have a complete fracture of the anterior cortex of your tibia”, to this I was not surprised but was very alarmed.”
Deciding on the right course of action was tough and Luke had hoped to go the non evasive route, opting initially for non – surgical procedures, such as Parathyroid Hormone Therapy (PTH) to aid and accelerate bone healing along with non weight bearing on the leg for 6 weeks with the use of crutches. Following the six week treatment another scan was performed on the leg to determine it’s progress and healing. To Luke’s disappointment, PTH had not taken well to his injury and he was left with no option but to undergo surgery.
The lengthy surgery consisted of a particular procedure called curettage which scrapes out the fracture to clear out any debris or damaged bone tissue. Bone graft fragments were taken from higher up in the leg, with a metal plate fixed over the fracture site and finally a growth hormone injected into the fracture which has been shown to accelerate bone regeneration. In total, the surgery lasted over 2 hours to complete.
Luke has now started on the road to recovery and has begun physiotherapy sessions which have been very successful so far. We won’t see him in any competitions for the remainder of the year as the injury heals but he is aiming to be back on all six apparatus by December and competing again by February. Looking forward to 2013 Luke says:
“I am confident I will be better than I ever have been and hopefully in 2013, I will prove myself as a great All Rounder once again.”
Wishing Luke the very best with his recovery, he is already making great progress and has been doing some work on Pommels and Bars – obviously no dismounts! With Luke’s sheer determination, which helped him work through competitions even when in pain, he is sure to be back in the gym full time very soon.